A huge debt to our lead guitarist’s father, who’d misguidedly invested in a bunch of egotistical hairys, who could barely play but were nevertheless accomplished posers, meant that my dream of becoming a rock legend at 18 was thwarted before it really began. From the ashes of our well intended but naïve aspiration, my working life began but the damage to my vanity ran deep. Without the band, I was deprived of a public platform, an opportunity to bathe in the glory of public adulation. It was a bitter pill for a young man with carefully nurtured waist-length hair to swallow.
30 years on I’m still a show off; I think we all are to some degree. Even those who shun the limelight seek acknowledgement of their skill, crave respect for their knowledge: it’s human nature and photographers are human beings. More often than not in days gone by, the nature photographer’s skill and endeavour manifested in an eagerly-anticipated coffee-table book, many of which I still own today. There was a real sense of anticipation opening those fresh pages and invariably being rewarded with that all-important component of compelling visual imagery: surprise. Without surprise, impact is lessened and without impact, the viewer is unfulfilled, disappointed even.
A friend of mine very kindly suggested recently that I should post more of my images on Facebook. His suggestion was well intended and the opportunity to show off to the world – to cultivate instant gratification – is indeed tempting. I do succumb to that temptation but increasingly, I’m reluctant to post my favourite images that without context, inevitably compromise the opportunity to surprise an audience in the future.
Social media offers photographers unprecedented access to an audience that was previously unattainable but the price we pay is heavy: we are diluting the very impact that our images need and deserve. This short-term gratification, this cosmetic surgery for the soul, whilst understandable, is transient and superficial. Perhaps the genie is already out of the bottle but if we’re to retain any chance of our images standing for anything beyond fleeting entertainment, we perhaps need to think more carefully about not only how we produce our imagery but crucially, how it is presented. We expose our best pictures in search of instant applause at our peril.
Back in my testosterone-fuelled teenage years, I thought that one local gig and a decent press write-up had me made. The reality is different. The rock bands that have the most impact are those that tread the long road and innovate along the way. There are no short cuts to meaningful credibility and nature photography is no different.